When it feels like work and your personal life are blurring together, here are tips to reset boundaries.
Work-life balance looks different for everyone.
For many people, work-life balance means giving your best effort to your job, while giving yourself much-needed breaks to recharge outside of work and being present for yourself, your family and other non-paid endeavors.
It’s important to evaluate what this can look like during each season of your life.
Sometimes work demands more of your time and attention than at other times; sometimes events in your personal life take more focus away from your work than usual.
That ebb and flow is inevitable. But when it feels like the boundaries between your job and the rest of your life are blurring together, and you can’t focus well on either, it’s time for a reset.
Consider these strategies to improve your work-life balance.
Create distance. Whether or not you work remotely, putting some physical distance between you and your job during non-working hours is the first step to improve your work-life balance.
Some ways to do this: Go for a walk, a run or a workout at the end of your workday, as a transition time to your off-hours. This requires physically moving away from the computer and your workspace. Also, setting up your workspace in a designated spot in the house that you can step away from when you’re not working helps you physically get away from work when you need to. At the very least, turn off your computer or other gear and stow them away out of sight when your workday is over or when you’re taking a break for more than a few minutes.
Disconnect. You don’t need to be available 24/7. Set appropriate boundaries with your work hours. Communicate with your supervisor or colleagues for support as needed.
Turning off notifications on your phone for emails and other apps, if the nature of your job allows that, prevents you from giving mental attention to work tasks when you’re, say, in the middle of dinner with your family. Block off time in your work calendar to indicate to co-workers when you are not available for meetings, calls or emails. (Also, respect your co-workers’ “off” hours, too, and resist sending them emails or texts when they’re away from work.)
Focus. Reduce distractions during your workday to increase your efficiency. This can help you feel accomplished and allow you to better disconnect at the end of the day.
Communicate with your family in advance about what time you’re available to talk or deal with interruptions. Family members can learn not to disturb you (emergencies being the exception) during your “office hours,” if there is work you regularly need to accomplish when other people are at home with you. There are various ways to reinforce these no-interruptions time, depending on your children’s ages and the physical layout of your home. Keeping the door to the room where you work closed is an obvious signal; posting your “off-limits” times in a common area or on a shared calendar is a reminder. Or set a kitchen timer to go off when you are once again available. This is a good reminder to yourself to push away from work at a preset time, rather than allowing non-urgent work tasks to eat into the time you thought you’d devote to exercising, reading, or going to the dog park.
Start small. Small habits, like taking a break between meetings, walking on your lunch break, staying hydrated, or getting proper sleep can help you improve work-life balance and prevent burnout.
Take time off. Looking forward to regular breaks can help you recharge throughout the year. Plan ahead with your boss or team as needed.
“Regular” is an important word. Planning a weeklong vacation many months in advance is great, but sprinkling shorter periods away from work throughout the year — whether to travel for a long weekend or take a “staycation” at home — can also be helpful to recharge and avoid burnout.
If work stress is becoming overwhelming, check to see if your employer offers wellness benefits including confidential counseling or coaching. Or speak to your primary care provider about your mental health needs.
This post was written by the staff of Health Plus, which provides resources to support the health of Vanderbilt faculty and staff.